Last Year’s Winner: “Planet Earth II”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: A network hasn’t won this category in back-to-back years since PBS in 2013 and 2014, which was also the last time the same show won twice in a row — “American Masters.”
“American Masters” has 17 nominations and 10 wins in this category, which is far and away the most of either accolade. But a new trend in docuseries, as well as new mediums supporting the genre, are clashing with PBS’s established favorite. HBO’s “The Jinx” and Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” solidified the interest in and respect for true crime docuseries, and while last year saw “Planet Earth II” take the Emmy, the genre’s success has lead to more competition overall.
“Evil Genius” is a Netflix true crime docuseries that hasn’t made “Making a Murderer”-level waves, but could still benefit from having extra eyes on it. More likely to see a nomination, though, is a Netflix original that falls just outside of true crime: “Wild Wild Country.” The shocking story of an Oregon-based cult in the ’80s, the Duplass brothers-produced series does deal with illegalities, mysteries, and more. Meanwhile, the streaming giant’s “Bobby Kennedy For President” could get a boost from its Tribeca Film Festival premiere and inspiring political messages.
That is, if “Chef’s Table” doesn’t keep running the table. Nominated two years in a row, the latest season is eligible and still a strong contender in 2018. That makes four Netflix contenders already, and there are even more on the ballot — “Flint Town,” “Last Chance U,” and more. The popular service is making a stronger and stronger impression on Emmys voters, which could boost its nominations here.
And yet perhaps the most dominant docuseries of all is “The Defiant Ones.” With HBO behind it, along with mega music producers Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, the series earned rave reviews and left quite a mark when it debuted nearly a year ago. If those memories haven’t faded, it should do well. “Blue Planet II” is also hoping to capitalize off the past, but not in the same way. Yes, the original “Blue Planet” docuseries won two Emmys, but it missed out on this category. If the sequel hopes to get in, it’s best chance is playing up the connection to Emmy favorite “Planet Earth” and last year’s winning sequel.
“The Circus” and “The Fourth Estate” are also strong contenders from Showtime, while AMC has a pair of entries for its new Visionaries franchise. Any number of these series have a strong case — be it political relevancy, saving journalism, or simply a Hollywood powerhouse for the subject — making it hard to guess which points will sway voters.
Below are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series (listed in alphabetical order), which will be updated throughout the season. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for all the latest buzz and highlights from the 2018 race, and read predictions in the rest of the categories, as well.
- “American Masters”
- “Blue Planet II”
- “Chef’s Table”
- “The Defiant Ones”
- “Wild Wild Country”
Spoilers: “The Circus,” “Evil Genius,” “Flint Town,” “The Fourth Estate,” “James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction (AMC Visionaries),” “The Nineties”
In a Perfect World: “Bobby Kennedy for President,” “Last Chance High”